A Deeper Understanding of Dying

A knock on the door goes unanswered. I step into the room, raise my voice to a stereo decibel, and say, “Hello Mr. Jackson!” Confused and dazed, Mr. Jackson responds, “Hello? What are you doing here?” I reassure him that I am just a guest there to chat and catch up on how things are going. I assume he is probably tired of the nurses and aides coming in to move him, dress him, and check his body for any abnormalities. I hope that he will be comforted that I am here simply as a companion.

Today, Mr. Jackson jokes about being extremely busy living in the assisted living facility. It takes some time for him to communicate as his illness prevents him from speaking clearly. He asks about me, what I am up to in my personal life, repeatedly telling me to “make sure I travel” as his dementia sometimes leads him down the same path again. I interpret his fixation on travel as a reflection of a personal regret. I take note and remind myself to make sure I see the world once I graduate from college. Every week for four months, I visited Mr. Jackson. However, not all of my visits went as smoothly as that day.

A few weeks later, I recall entering his room and welcoming him just as I had in weeks past. This time, he seemed agitated. He questioned why I was there. I used my typical line about being a visitor there to spend time with him. Quickly and without his normal struggle to speak he said, “I do not need your kind of visitation.” I quickly exited the room and high-tailed it out of the assisted living facility.

As I drove home, I questioned why I was a hospice volunteer. I felt unwanted and felt as though I was not accomplishing anything. After a few days of thought, I realized I was overreacting. Despite an inability to speak and a constant struggle to remember things, Mr. Jackson is still a person. Like everyone else, Mr. Jackson can have a bad day. Mr. Jackson deserved to be respected and to have visitors because he was just another human being despite his diminished physical and mental state. Furthermore, I learned that Mr. Jackson’s family never visited him, even when he entered the actively dying stage. As a part of the hospice team for Mr. Jackson, I was amazed how much hospice does to ensure no person dies alone. Hospice care is patient-centered and embraces the end of life as a natural and integral process.

I am fortunate to have experienced Mr. Jackson’s dying process. I understand that it is not always about making a deep connection, but simply showing one’s support and making the effort to help others. Not everyone experiences dying in the same way. Some of us have strong family ties and others have little support. Despite all of this, death is a part of every person’s life. It is something that cannot be evaded. It may be a difficult process to watch, but after meeting with Mr. Jackson, I believe the dying process allows people to get a deeper understanding of the beauty of life.